Boston Red Sox

Blakely's Celtics-Spurs preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Spurs preview

BOSTON The San Antonio Spurs came out red-hot at the start of the season with wins in six of their first eight games, and are still rolling along with the playoffs just a few weeks away while currently riding a season-best eight game winning streak. The Boston Celtics stumbled out the gate with three straight losses, stumbled some more with five straight defeats just before the all-star break, but have been a different team - make that better - team since with an impressive 15-5 record which includes their current five-game winning streak.

Despite beginning the season differently, each has taken a path that has them playing their best basketball of the season on the cusp of the playoffs.

Of the two, the Spurs' play has indeed been the bigger surprise this season with Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers, garnering most of the attention as title contenders out West.

And yet the Spurs (37-14) are just a couple games behind the Thunder (40-13) for the best record in the NBA.

"San Antonio's been playing well all year," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "They got out of the gates hot. I don't know if they've had a bad stretch. I don't know if anyone has done a better job than them, Pop (head coach Gregg Popovich) and that group. They keep adding guys to their mix. They've just been sensational."

The Celtics (30-22) have been on top of their game of late as well, reeling off five straight wins which has them on top of the Atlantic Division by 1.5 games over Philadelphia.

Both teams will try to continue with their strong play and build toward what they each hope will be a long playoff run, even if they each took different paths to get here.

"Obviously you want to peak at the right time, going into the playoffs," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "That's what we're trying to do. With San Antonio, they've been a consistent force all year long."

Here are some of the keys to tonight's game as the C's try to extend their season-best winning streak at home to nine in a row.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR Boston's best shot at beating the Spurs is to do what they did against Miami - make sure it's not a game that comes down to the wire. This season, there are few teams that are better at putting away close games in the final couple minutes of play. In games in which San Antonio is ahead or behind within the last two minutes of play, they are 16-9. Only the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers have a higher winning percentage in such games.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Rajon Rondo vs. Tony Parker: In the Big Three era, Rondo has been fairly consistent with strong play against the Spurs. In the six games against them since 2008-2009, Rondo has averaged 14 assists with at least 12 in each game. In addition, he's averaged 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. Parker has emerged as the best scorer for San Antonio this season, averaging a team-high 19.3 points per game this season. And like Rondo, he relies on having jet-like quickness to get to the basket. But Parker is more of a finisher, while Rondo's dribble-penetration is usually to set up a teammate to score.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Bass is looking more and more like an X-factor for the Celtics. When he's on top of his game both as a scorer and a rebounder, the Celtics are an extremely tough team to beat. Bass has had five double-doubles scoring and rebounding this season. In those games, the C's are 4-1 with the lone loss coming in the season-opening loss at New York on Christmas Day.

STAT TO TRACK: There are a number of statistics that show how good Boston's defense has been this year, one of which is how they are giving up a league-low 36 made field goals per game. Keeping the Spurs at or below that total will not be easy, especially when you realize that they average a league-best 39 made field goals per game which is a big reason why they rank third in the NBA, in points scored (101.9) per game.

Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

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Sale gets strikeout No. 300 as Red Sox shut out O's, 9-0

BALTIMORE - Chris Sale struck out 13 to become the first AL pitcher in 18 years to reach the 300 mark, and the Boston Red Sox moved to the brink of clinching a playoff berth by beating the Baltimore Orioles 9-0 on Wednesday night.

Sale (17-7) reached the milestone on his last pitch, a called third strike against Ryan Flaherty to end the eighth inning. The last AL pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season was Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he set a club record with 313.

Mookie Betts and Deven Marrero homered for the Red Sox, who reduced their magic number for reaching the postseason to one. If the Angels lost to Cleveland later Wednesday night, Boston would be assured no worse than a wild-card spot in the AL playoffs.

The Red Sox, of course, would prefer to enter as AL East champions. They hold a three-game lead over the second-place Yankees with 10 games left.

After winning two straight 11-inning games over the skidding Orioles, Boston jumped to a 6-0 lead in the fifth and coasted to its 11th win in 14 games.

Sale notches his 300th strikeout of the season

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Sale notches his 300th strikeout of the season

BALTIMORE — One of the greatest seasons for a pitcher in Red Sox history saw a milestone toppled Wednesday night. 

In a dominant start vs. the Orioles at Camden Yards, Chris Sale became the first American League pitcher this century to strike out 300 batters in a season. He also put himself in striking distance of the Red Sox single-season record for Ks, 313.

Sale is the 14th different pitcher since 1920 to reach the 300 mark. The only other pitcher to do so in a Red Sox uniform was Pedro Martinez, who set the club record of 313 in 1999.

Sale was at 12 strikeouts and 99 pitches through seven innings Wednesday night with the Sox ahead 6-0. The offense added two more runs in the top of the inning, prompting Sox manager John Farrell to warm up righty Austin Maddox.

But Sale nonetheless took the mound. The first two batters of the inning grounded out. On a 2-2 pitch to the left-handed hitting Ryan Flaherty, Sale threw a front-door slider that caught Flaherty looking. It was his 111th pitch of the night.

Sale has two more scheduled starts, although he may only make one more. 

His final appearance of the regular season projects to be Game No. 162 against the Astros. If the Sox have the American League East wrapped up, Sale could well be held out of that game. 

The Sox and Astros meet for four games to end the regular season at Fenway Park, and may be first-round opponents if the Indians maintain the best record in the AL and therefore home field advantage.

The last time a pitcher in either league struck out 300 was 2015, when Clayton Kershaw did so for the Dodgers.

Sale was in line for his 17th win Wednesday, tying his career high.